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Top US diplomat in Ukraine to testify before Congressional impeachment panels

Then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, left, and then-Ukrainian Minister of Defense Anatoliy Hrytsenko, right, show then-US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates some of the local architecture in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 22, 2007. (Department of Defense/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

As the U.S. Congressional impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump has continued for over a month, the country’s top diplomat in Ukraine is set to be deposed on October 22 behind closed doors in front of three panels as this week’s key witness.

William Taylor, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is expected to explain events that transpired after Trump on July 25 spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call that involved requests for inquiries into the U.S. president’s political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Joe Biden was vice president at the time his son was a member of the board of directors of a controversial energy company, Burisma Holdings.

At the time, Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Kyiv and during the call he also had asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” to investigate the Democratic Party in relation to a computer server, which media reports have found are based on an unproven conspiracy theory that has circulated on the Internet and certain conservative media outlets.

Some Democrats are keen to learn more about Taylor’s text message exchanges in September with Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the current ambassador to the EU, that allegedly show him questioning the propriety of Trump’s policy on Ukraine.

At the time, Volker and Sondland were trying to get Zelenskiy to publicly commit to investigations into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

The alleged quid pro quo was a promised visit to the White House for Zelenskiy.

“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH [White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor on September 1 asked Sondland who in turn asked to be called.

Additional texts a week later to Volker and Sondland highlighted Taylor’s growing concern, calling it “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Not giving Kyiv military aid, Taylor texted, would be a “nightmare” scenario since it would send the wrong message to both Kyiv and Moscow.

“The Russians love it. (And I quit),” the diplomat said in another message.

In response, Sondland said there was no quid pro quo on the part of Trump and suggested to Taylor that they stop communicating via text messages.

Trump as recently as October 21 has called the House of Representatives’ impeachment probe a “witch hunt” and has insisted he did nothing inappropriate in relation to Ukraine, saying he was concerned about the proliferation of corruption in the country.

Also on October 21, Trump bemoaned fellow Republican lawmakers who have come out in support of the impeachment proceedings, specifically pointing to Utah Senator Mitt Romney who has become a notable critic of the president.

Citing the unity of Democrats at a cabinet meeting, Trump said, “they don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst….They don’t have people like that. They stick together. You never see them break off.”

Taylor came out of retirement to serve a month after Marie Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled as ambassador to Ukraine in May in a move she has described to three House investigative committees as politically motivated and based on false accusations.

A career diplomat, Taylor, 72, had served as ambassador to Ukraine in 2006-2009 and had diplomatic stints in the Middle East and Afghanistan during his long career.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a Vietnam War veteran.

Additional testimonies this week are expected from Phil Reeker, the acting top official at the State Department for European and Eurasian affairs, on October 23. On the same day, Michael Duffy, associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, is expected to testify.

According to National Public Radio, two Pentagon officials who were not named are expected to appear on October 24.